It Only “Starts” with Reading Good Books – Thinking (Again) About the Real Challenge AFTER You Read that Very Good Book

crit·i·cal think·ing
noun: critical thinking
the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.


Here’s what I think. No one changes the world, or themselves, or a company or organization, by reading a book.

No – the changes come when people put into practice what they learn from reading a good book…

…Sometimes, I feel more than a little overwhelmed.

Read any good books lately? - What do you do with what you read?
Read any good books lately? – What do you do with what you read?

Today, it is because I revisited Accelerate (XLR8) by John Kotter. I read it, presented it, keep going back to it, and I have decided – this book presents quite the challenge. How should we really go about initiating his proposed dual operating system in an organization that has not a clue how to do so?!  (read more about this dual operating system in my blog post here).

To summarize, Mr. Kotter argues that in the life cycle of an organization, it is (practically) inevitable that an organization will become hierarchical, and ultimately “fixed,’ set in its ways; settled… Here’s how I put it in my presentation about this book:

The natural direction of an organization is toward less, and then much, much less, innovation.

And, if this is so (and I think it is), then to get the folks in the existing hierarchy to make room for the disruptors, the innovators – to have the folks at the top of the hierarchy seek their own discomfort (and, rest assured, that’s what they do if they seek to implement Mr. Kotter’s suggestion) – well, it’s a lot to ask, isn’t it?

Yes, it is — but the book left me with an overwhelming sense that it has to be done.

That is my judgment (critical thinking requires one to form a judgment, so it says the definition). But how to get from here (I get this problem) to there (this is how we will actually solve it) requires plenty of critical thinking, courage, honesty… something close to agonizing, sweeping change.

Which is why many organizations fail to pull it off effectively.

But, this post is not about Kotter’s dual operating system. I could choose many other books, and take their key messages, and we would be at the same point, dealing with the same problem. And that point is this:

What do we do with what we read?

I just read a few of the latest book reviews over on Bob Morris’ blog. I’ve downloaded some sample pages, and now plan to read those, and decide which books to read next, in their entirety. But, sometimes I feel like I never need to read another book — I just need to figure out what to do with I have already read.

Now, my “job” involves reading books, and preparing and presenting synopses of these books – so, I doubt I will quit reading books anytime soon. But sometimes, I look out into my audiences and think that “they’ve heard these ideas before.” And, they have… Many books “repeat” what has been written earlier – sometimes by the same author, sometimes by others – sometimes, many others.

So, we hear the words, and if we are attentive, we ponder the implications – and then…, we go back to putting out the fires we are dealing with now, and rather quickly we forget to re-call what we’ve read or heard, and it fades away into some forgotten piece of our memory.

That, by the way, is close to a specific example used by John Kotter in Accelerate:

At a meeting to talk about both a big program to magnify innovation and cleanup efforts after a fire in one of your plants, you know which topic occupies most of the conversation.

I do want us all to keep reading new books. And I will keep reading, and presenting what I find in these books.

But, to think critically about what I read; to form a judgment; and to form a plan to implement what I learn, and then actually follow-through with that plan, well… This is the real challenge, isn’t it



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